Monday, 18 May 2015

FILM REVIEW: Mad Max: Fury Road

With so many films and franchises being resurrected on an almost daily basis, it is no surprise to see the engine roaring George Miller series back on big screen. It’s been an entire 30 years since Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome graced cinemas and there were rumours popping up, ever since 1998, about plans to realise yet another chapter in this post-apocalyptic saga. Obviously, audiences learned to tamper their expectation levels in the past two decades after or so. Few of 80s properties managed to reignite their old flame, the original crew’s involvement notwithstanding. No need to give examples on endless list to illustrate this point…

Mad Max: Fury Road is sort of a sequel to old films but doesn’t need to be viewed as such. Other than main character’s quick flashbacks, the plot and overall premise has very little to do with those. The main character is being played by Tom Hardy in this outing, thus taking over from Mel Gibson (who was apparently attached to the project up until 2003). Max is entangled in the plot after being captured by the War Boys army of monstrous cult leader King Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne). He is basically only kept alive to provide blood for a sick boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). At the same time, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leaves with a mission to collect gasoline with her War Rig vehicle. But, as it turns out, her plans are completely different. She decides to escape and that leads to a massive chase, with Max being dragged into it against his will.

The film itself is one gigantic action sequence, with few quiet moments. And for people expecting some sort of character development or thicker narrative, it might be wise to avoid this monstrosity at all costs. Which, of course, is not to say they should, really. Yes, Mad Max: Fury Road might be an excess in action and violence, with little emphasis put on the script. But it does so in such a cinematic way, one just simply cannot resist being dragged into this madness. The dialogue is often lost amidst the sound roaring engines, explosions and screaming. But then, those lines are mostly functional and give the audience only basic expository information. The film is pretty much told solely through its visuals. And, no matter your cinematic preferences, that in itself is a thing rarely witnessed these days.

Similarly to recent The Raid series Gareth Evans, Miller finds artistic beauty in violence and destruction. There is a poetic, almost balletic quality to his sequences. What is happening on screen might be beyond ridiculous but the director guides the viewer through his clever camera work and dynamic editing that. Viewer can always tell what is happening on screen at any given moment. Besides, Fury Road is an orgy of physical effects, stunts and pyrotechnics. Yes, there is some CGI here and there to enhance the world. But it never succumbs to this, whether you want to admit or not, cheap film trickery. Quite the contrary, you can almost smell the sweat, taste the blood and feel the impact. Indeed, the production process behind this project must be a geek heaven for cinema enthusiasts.

Special mention must go to the excellent production design. While all previous three films were made in the same vein, they would never be able to be realised on such a scale. Miller’s new opus has a truly epic feel and it dazzles with detail. Even though, story remains really sketchy all the way through, there is a sense that dozen others could be told about each aspect or location we get to see along this fast paced ride. It’s an universe that can be expanded upon and there are several hints of where it could go next. The overall fantastical look brings to mind the works of Guillermo del Toro. There is a similar sense of texture to the designs - both real and otherworldly.

Filmmakers are also endlessly inventive when subverting mundane imagery we know from our daily lives and applying different meanings to them. One of the most common visual elements are associated with gasoline and car machinery. For instance, steering wheels are treated as religious objects and insignias of war. They seem to serve a similar purpose to Christian cross in Mad Max universe. Indeed, the entire cult of Immorten Joe revolves around those types of themes: V8 engine is a deity, silver car paint serves as a symbol of warrior and martyr. These sort of distortions are not completely unlike the ones found in several films of Terry Gilliam. He seems to be yet another major influence on Fury Road, both in the feverish density of each frame, as well as quirky sense of humour.

Among this chaos are two central actors. Both Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron supply the cool, while everything else is set ablaze. Furiosa’s icy cold stare becomes the most prevalent and lasting image after the film is long over and her determination is what fuels the narrative. A lot has been said about the female energy to finally fuel (pun intended) this male orgy of destruction. And while this is certainly the case, the central character is very much in common with other terrific heroines of cinema past – Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley. About time we got an update on this trope, especially as well done as this.

On the other hand, Max is a bystander, a reluctant hero. Similarly to Mel Gibson in old films, Hardy plays him as a man of few words and even those come out of his mouth with great difficulty. At the very beginning, he is clearly less than a man. More of a beast, really. But, as the story progresses, there is more focus and motivation. The tortured memories of painful past ultimately push the character into regaining the heroic persona. It could be even said that Fury Road is as much about female empowerment (as illustrated through Furiosa) as it is about male rebirth (which is the case with both Max and Nux). The film strikes a refreshing balance between those two, basically presenting them as equals. For once.

The one’s enjoyment of the new Mad Max will largely come down to one thing: whether one can tolerate an action film that doesn’t pretend it’s anything more than that. Miller clearly makes no apologies about it and neither should viewer expect to find subtlety and refinement. Normally, this kind of approach might be posed as an issue and it does apply to most blockbusters like this. But, because of its visual potency and horrific beauty, Fury Road is so much better than that. It might come as close to pure cinema as any action film ever made. And, frankly, it’s hard to imagine anybody doing a much better job than this.

- Karol

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Monday, 11 May 2015

FEATURE: Spying According To Spooks

For ten series, Spooks (or MI5 in the States) has brought us some of the most amazing drama the BBC has had to offer. From the sublime to ridiculous, we saw spies being all heroic, spies going rogue and the officers of the fictional Section D get dispatched in increasingly interesting ways (although they did have to work hard to top Series One's chip fat fryer...). 

With the new movie, Spooks: The Greater Good looming on the horizon, we decided to take a look at how luminaries such as Harry Pearce or Tom Quinn stop as many secret terrorist organisations, Americans and generally anyone else who threatened our national security as well as they did over those ten years. So we at Assorted Buffery have decided to bring you our comprehensive(ish) guide to How to Spy according to the characters of Spooks.

Please be warned; major spoilers for the Spooks TV series ahead.

Sir Harry Pearce (Peter Firth)

How to Spy: Drink whisky, and lots of it. If you've had a particularly bad day, simply drink more whisky and listen to some stirring classical music, just to add to the pensive mood. As capable of falling in love with colleague Ruth as you are ordering the assassination of a confirmed terrorist, you keep Section D running and let's face it, you're just impossible to kill.

Defining moment: Poisoning the Home Secretary to avenge the (actual) death of Ros Myers 

Secret weapon: Whisky. And the best phone voice ever. 

Current Status: Indestructible. Like Captain Scarlet.

Tom Quinn (Matthew Macfadyen)

How to Spy: Always turn on your morals at the least appropriate moment, then run into the sea in a blind panic and turn up on a street corner somewhere a week later disguised as a tramp.

Defining moment: Returning to kill off a loose end at the very last moment of the series, stealing the finale with his dashing good looks. 

Secret Weapon: A voice that could melt chocolate.

Current Status: God knows...

Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo)

How to Spy: Look cool. Then look a bit confused. Flirt with Sam. Look longingly after Zoe. Look a bit cool again and then die a heroic death.  

Defining moment: "Fuck you, you death-worshiping fascist!"

Secret Weapon: Winnie the Pooh (no, seriously)

Current Status: Triumphantly dead.

Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes)

How to Spy: Secret identities never really worry you. I mean, who wouldn't want to tell a fit Welsh photographer your real name, whilst working an undercover mission on which people's lives depend? Besides, you can always escape "off-the-books" to South America should you completely balls it all up.

Defining Moment: Proving kicking ass and taking names wasn't just a boys' playing field.

Secret weapon: "The tight blue sweatshirt"

Current Status: Somewhere on the Inca Trail.

Ruth Evershed (Nicola Walker)

How to Spy: Panic. Then look longingly at Harry. Refer to GCHQ for no real reason other than exposition. Tell Harry what to do whilst looking longingly at him. Then look worried. Save the day with your wicked research skills.

Defining Moment: Saving Section D's arse so many times that she should be a national treasure. 

Secret weapon: Painstaking attention to detail.

Current Status: *Sob* We're still grieving this one.

Malcolm Wynn-Jones (Hugh Simon)

How to Spy: Without you, the MI5 technical department looked like a member of a boyband (Exposition-Tariq, I'm looking at you). Whether coming up with a convenient technical device to save the day or just hammering away at a keyboard looking like an expert movie hacker, Section D crumbles without you. So much so, they bring you out of retirement.

Defining Moment: Losing it at the death *sob* of Colin, his tech-wizard partner in crime.

Secret Weapon: Mad typing skills and the kind of computer graphics only seen on TV.

Current Status: Being awesome. 

Ros Myers (Hermione Norris)

How to Spy: You are always right. A universe in which you are ever not right simply does not exist. Be tough, kick arse, get your own way and if all else fails simply fake your own death. 

Defining Moment: Oh you know, casually coming back from the dead.

Secret Weapon: Withering sarcasm.

Current Status: Dead. Again.

Adam Carter (Rupert Penry-Jones)

How to Spy: Remember, your wardrobe is your most important asset. That, and a damn good designer stubble chin. Always charm, smile and persuade your way out of trouble. When in doubt, forget your designer labels and get naked.

Defining Moment: Cementing his position in the team by making it to a secret meeting using only a series of costume changes and sandwich board messages.

Secret Weapon: That piercing stare.

Current Status: Exploded.

Zafar Younis (Raza Jaffrey)

How to Spy: You are so damn badass you bring a baseball bat to a gunfight. Literally. So badass that getting rid of you in a suitably outrageous way was just impossible because you beat a guy into submission with a baseball bat. One convenient kidnapping plot later and you fade away into Section D memorial obscurity. But it's OK. Because you are awesome. 

Defining Moment: Dealing with a racist who'd already locked him in a cupboard and accused our Zaf of attempting to down an airplane.

Secret Weapon: A freaking baseball bat.

Current Status: We refuse to believe those photos.

Lucas North (Richard Armitage)

How to Spy: Being a spy is far easier than it looks. In fact it's often best not to use your brain at all. Rely on your superiors whenever you can, run into the odd moving vehicle and not to worry if you lose your target along the way. Oh and your name is JOHN by the way, that's JOHN. 

Defining Moment: Attempting to kill everyone in Section D. Including Harry. Seriously, who does that?

Secret Weapon: Going batshit crazy at inappropriate moments.

Current Status: Very dead. Which to be honest, is probably for the best.

Sarah Caulfield (Genevieve O'Reilly)

How to Spy: Perfect accents are a sign of a spy with too much time on her hands. Just go in there wavering Bostonian vowels a blazing and shag the nearest dimwit who's a few handguns short of an arsenal. Let's face it, we all knew she was a bad egg even before she somehow managed to throw a man twice her size down a fancy stair well. 

Defining Moment: Travelling from Boston to New York via Georgia in the space of about 30 seconds. Her vocal coach needs sacking.

Secret Weapon: Hulk-like strength without the unflattering green complexion. 

Current Status: Assassinated (Cor, they don't last very long do they?)

Dimitri Levendis (Max Brown)

How to Spy: It's a tough life being a sidekick, especially one who has all the character development of a wooden spoon. So give it your best frown, remind everyone you haven't yet turned into a cardboard cutout and only show emotion when defusing a bomb... again.

Defining Moment: We only actually remember him defusing a bomb and possibly shagging a target.

Secret Weapon: A well-practiced frown.

Current Status: Desperately seeking a personality.

Erin Watts (Lara Pulver)

How to Spy: Eyeliner. Heels and eyeliner. That's the secret. Oh and a damn good blow dry. 

Defining moment: Who are you again?

Secret Weapon: Erm, unhelpful killer heels?

Current Status: Getting her hair done and then sashaying into Spooks: The Greater Good.

Disclaimer: We hold no responsibility for anyone who actually attempts to spy according to the above techniques. Leave it to the sharp-suited professionals and catch Spooks: The Greater Good in cinemas on May 13th, with Kit Harington and the indomitable Peter Firth returning as Harry Pearce.

- Jen and Becky

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Monday, 4 May 2015

FILM REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron

The Avengers have united to continue the hunt for Loki's sceptre following the fall of SHIELD and the re-emergence of HYDRA, but a villain of Tony Stark's own making soon changes the mission for everybody. Stark is still reeling from the Battle of New York and his desire to prevent it happening again leads to him and Banner developing their Ultron programme, an artificial intelligence designed to protect the world. However, it all goes wrong, as these things so often do, and the Avengers must fight to save the human race.

The first Avengers film was nothing short of spectacle cinema, the chance to see a superhero team-up from a comic book universe for the first time on the big screen. The anticipation was huge and, in the hands of Joss Whedon, delivered on all fronts. Phase 2 of Marvel's Cinematic Universe has continued to prove the films to be a bit of a divisive affair, but has largely maintained the entertaining atmosphere of the earlier installments whilst steadily expanding the world. After that, the excitement for Avengers: Age of Ultron could have hardly been higher and thankfully, the film delivers in spades.

Given its placement towards the end of Phase 2, Age of Ultron feels very much like a mid-point for the ongoing plotlines within this universe. This isn't a flaw though as the film deftly combines wrapping up some narratives, whilst also using the central narrative to begin or continue laying foundations for future films in the series. It makes for a dizzyingly dense film, but one that never threatens to overwhelm or alienate, instead inviting more rewatches those who wish to delve further. 

In amidst the action, the character work is excellent, using their interactions in battle to fuel their relationships, throwing them into conflict or uniting them. Even the choreography of the action itself demonstrates the ongoing synergy between certain characters; Thor and Captain America team up regularly throughout, whilst the impending Iron Man/Captain America conflict is deftly forecast. That doesn't mean those characters without their own solo films have been shortchanged either.

Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner all seize on the opportunity to expand their characters, bringing a warmth into the proceedings that cements the film's emotional core. Newcomers Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, or Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, are fleshed out enough to resonate, their tragic background laid out simply and effectively. It also helps that the performances of Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson make the Maximoffs feel as if they have always been a part of this universe. Whilst Paul Bettany's Jarvis always has, it's in the Vision that the actor excels, quite possibly stealing the moment of the movie away from his more established co-stars.

The film's frenetic pace is well-maintained and doesn't allow the audience to breathe much in between the next plot development. Whilst this doesn't necessarily work against the film, it's often in the quieter scenes between battles that the film truly soars. Characters discuss their fears, argue over whose girlfriend is better and telling anecdotes designed to awe and they're all so well-drawn that you long for more of just Steve and Thor hanging out, Maria Hill mocking the uber-masculinity that surrounds her or Stark and Banner in full Science Bros mode. It's a small gripe, but also a testament to how well these characters and their worlds have been realised.

With the second biggest opening ever, the Marvel Cinematic Universe juggernaut continues to roll on. Age of Ultron may not carry the one-of-a-kind thrill that made The Avengers so adored, but it still provides a fantastic spectacle for those of us who have been waiting to see the band back together.

- Becky

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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

TV REVIEW: Outlander - The Reckoning

This review contains spoilers. You can read Becky's spoiler-free review of the first eight episodes here.

The first half of Outlander's season ended with Claire quite literally in the hands of Black Jack Randall and Jamie bursting in to her rescue. The second half picks up again with this moment, but takes us back to Jamie's perspective, crafting the episode with his narration. He is meeting with the Redcoat deserter who promised to give him the name of the man who actually committed the murder when he gets news of Claire's capture and dashes off to rescue her. The rest of the episode deals with the consequences of her actions and expanding on Jamie's character.

Twisting the format slightly to allow for the episode to take place from Jamie's perspective proves to be a bit of a masterstroke considering The Reckoning's subject matter. Jamie's narration revolves around the choices a man makes in his life and he meets varies problems throughout; Colum and Dougal's rift over the Jacobite gold, Laighoire throwing herself at him despite his marital status and the actions he must take over Claire's disobediance. Sam Heughan adapts Jamie easily to each situation from the noble diplomat that takes on Colum and Dougal to the flustered man faced with a woman in nought but her corset.

It's the situation with Claire that could have potentially been massively mishandled within the episode and it's a scene that I know a lot of book readers were sort of dreading. Because she has not only endangered Jamie, she has also endangered Dougal's men and the clan MacKenzie, who don't think she realises just quite how much trouble she has caused. It leads to the first monumental argument of the Fraser marriage as both Claire and Jamie go at each other tooth and nail in the woods; she is indignant at his assertions she did it on purpose whilst he is furious that she can't seem to realise how huge it was that he revealed himself to Black Jack Randall in order to save her.

Heughan and Caitriona Balfe play the escalation of the scene beautifully, with Heughan in particular excelling through Jamie's shifting emotions. What is also so refreshing about Claire in this episode is how unaware she is of the traditions she violates with her early twentieth century attitude. Too often in these kind of stories, people learn to adapt quickly by virtue of education, but Claire blunders her way through and it's the first episode where that has major consequences for her. Balfe gives Claire an insolent air as she faces the consequences of her actions and the thrashing scene is much better for building Claire up in this manner.

Whereas the argument between the two is played entirely seriously, the bedroom based and potentially contraversial thrashing is played as a farce. The music in particular gives the impression it's a reel around the bedroom as Jamie circulates the bed in which Claire prepares to mount her defence. It's a very fine line to tread but the episode manages it, giving it the serious edge that such a scene requires whilst also mining it for the wry comedy that has characterised much of the series so far. The cut aways to the men downstairs listening to the chaos of the bedroom provide some well-judged laughs too.

That this is from Jamie's perspective also softens the scene somewhat; he feels it is something he has to do because he has always been brought up to believe it. Claire challenges his assumptions and choices constantly, none more so than when she refuses to sleep with him after the event. The power shifts in the marriage is something that Jamie didn't expect amongst the choices that he talks about throughout his voiceover, but before the end of the episode, another negotiation takes place between the two of them that addresses the imbalance caused by Jamie's adherence to tradition. And in this second negotiation, Claire is very much on top in more ways than one.

The final moments of the episode set up another potential hurdle for the couple to deal with in the form of Laighoire's 'ill wishes' as well as the possibility that a tonne of Redcoats could come after Claire at any second. It's all very exciting.

- Becky

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TV REVIEW: Outlander - Episodes One to Eight

This review of Outlander's first eight episodes is spoiler free, but Becky will be reviewing the remainder of the season individually and with spoilers, in our usual Buffery manner.

Based on Diana Gabaldon's rip-roaring and bestselling historical series, Outlander follows Claire Randall, a nurse in the Second World War who embarks on a holiday in Scotland with her husband, Frank, six months after VE Day. Whilst there, she finds herself drawn to a mysterious stone circle at Craigh na Dun and is pulled back in time to 1745, when Scotland was building to another Jacobite rebellion and intelligent, forthright women were viewed with suspicion. She attempts to get back to the stones and to her own time, but is soon drawn into the machinations of the MacKenzie clan and into a marriage of safety with the dashing Jamie Fraser.

Outlander has a huge weight of pedigree behind it, created by none other than television impresario, Ronald D. Moore (having previously worked on both Star Trek and the excellent Battlestar Galactica reboot), who brings his assured hand to Gabaldon's work. It's a smooth adaptation, streamlining out the story into something a little more manageable for a television audience that could be both in love with the books or without any knowledge whatsoever. Additions such as focusing on Frank in 1945 trying to find his wife, which didn't feature in the first book as it was Claire's first person narrative, builds the world up more and keeps alive the sympathy for an important character.

The world of 18th century Scotland is beautifully realised as the series sweeps through the Highlands. Muddy, brutal yet elegantly romantic, Claire's foray into the past carries the inherent thrill of seeing a world unknown, though it's considerably more bodice-ripping (literally) than your usual period drama. The sex, nudity and violence running through the story isn't sanitised from its source material, but nor does it feel gratuitous. Whilst there is the tendency carried over from the books to put Claire in as many potential sexual assault situations as possible, it's never supposed to be titillating; the focus on Claire herself in these moments ensures the focus is on her fear, not the man's enjoyment.

As Claire, Caitriona Balfe captures the character near-perfectly, from her belligerence in the face of 18th century attitudes towards women to a wicked sense of humour that bubbles beneath the surface. Claire already feels like a fully rounded character, naive in the face of these traditions for which she is an outlander, but learning to adapt quickly. It also helps that she has an excellent chemistry with both Tobias Menzies, in the dual role of Frank Randall and his 18th century ancestor, the Black Jack Randall, and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser.

Menzies has a particularly tough role in distinguishing the noble academic Frank from his sadistic ancestor. Black Jack Randall is the show's current outright villain and Menzies clearly relishes portraying someone who is convinced of his own inability to be redeemed. Frank is a gentler sort, but there are still the odd tics and reminders of their heritage, particularly when the desperation of both characters comes to the fore.

On the other side of Claire stands Jamie Fraser, the Highlander with a price on his head whom she helps when she first arrives in 1745. Heughan cuts a dashing figure in plaid and recreates Jamie's honourable ways as well as his wry humour that made readers all over fall in love with him on the page (myself included). Like the other main characters, Jamie arrives fully formed and the show works quickly to establish his back story, which will affect how the narrative develops.

It's a strong start for Outlander's first season, one which provides enough information for those unfamiliar with the story whilst hitting all the right narrative beats for those who are. There's a clear understanding of what makes the books work here and Moore has successfully translated that to the screen. Knowing what is to come for the remainder of the season adds a special level of tension to the developing relationships and I have every confidence that the show will continue to excel.

- Becky

Outlander is available to view now on Amazon Instant Video UK.

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Thursday, 19 March 2015

DVD REVIEW: Two Night Stand

Two Night Stand stars Analeigh Tipton and Miles Teller as Megan and Alec, two young people in New York meeting up for a one night stand. She's just out of a long-term relationship and, after encouragement from her roommate, joins a dating site and ends up inviting herself to Alec's apartment. However, the morning after, things don't go as planned. They end up fighting but are forced together for another night when a freak snowstorm hits the city and Megan can't get home.

As a central conceit for a romantic comedy goes, it's a novel one, making the most out of its main apartment location. Blanket forts are constructed, toilets are blocked and stolen noodles consumed. Throughout, the conversations between Megan and Alec run the gamut of possible topics for two people slowly getting to know each other in extremely odd circumstances. It helps that the two leads share a sparky chemistry that makes the already snappy dialogue sing and the film would be poorer with less capable actors.

Miles Teller's star is fast on the rise with thoughtful turns like Sutter in The Spectacular Now to the more comedic charm of That Awkward Moment. Here, he shows he is a solid romantic leading man and proves he is more than just the arrogant charmer, coping with the more dramatic material once the inevitable twist occurs. His ability to roll off a one liner is well-served by the screenplay's wit. The only trouble with his character is even if Alec is sketched a little too thinly to go up against Megan's more rounded character.

However, it is Analeigh Tipton who shines brightest, imbuing Megan with an inherent likeability and avoiding too many of the romcom heroine cliches. Her clumsiness and misfortune derives more from traditionally awkward situations rather than being tacked on to give her some semblance of character. Giving off a young Meg Ryan quality, Tipton is all at once neurotic, charming, confident and vulnerable and it's refreshing to see within the genre, too often reliant on 'quirky' to sell a character. 

Megan is not the only way in which Two Night Stand manages to bring a little subversive quality to the usual genre formula. The opening credits, too often treated as just a colourful introduction, provide a look at not only the funny perils of online dating when you're female (HEY SEXXXXY for example), but also at Megan's backstory. A lot of the detail witnessed in the credits returns later, cueing the audience in to what she may or may not be hiding from her one night stand.

Although it seems to have flown under the mainstream radar, Two Night Stand is a frank and funny spin on the genre that may stretch credulity slightly towards the end, but is sweet and charming enough for you not to notice.

Two Night Stand is released on Digital Download and DVD on Monday 23rd March.

- Becky

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Monday, 16 March 2015

TV REVIEW: Poldark - Episode Two

After last week's dramatic and family-based episode, the second instalment of Poldark finds Ross settling down to his role as both land and potential mine owner. The Warleggans have struck again, refusing to extend credit on one of the local mines, leading Ross' friends to lose their livelihoods and the mine owner to commit suicide. Ross decides to re-open the Wheal Leisure mine and begins to gather investors to his cause, including cousin Francis, hoping to rejuvenate the dying industry of his home. Meanwhile, Demelza is at the mercy of Jud and Prudy who keep attempting to convince her that she doesn't belong in the Poldark home and taking advantage of the new kitchenmaid. Verity's decision to attend the Assembly Ball proves to have massive repercussions for the family Poldark as gauntlets are thrown and shots are fired. Well, it is the eighteenth century. They had to find some way of entertaining themselves.

It's a bit of an uneven affair this week as the opening few scenes are laboured with the same problem that weighed the first episode down. There's still a little too much exposition going on in order to cement the current economic status of the mining industry in Poldark's Cornwall. Whilst the opening suicide provided a short, sharp shock to the system that hinted at the depth of the Warleggans' greed, it isn't until later in the episode that any of it begins to pay off. In fact, the later intertwining scenes of Ross meeting with his investors and George attempting to manipulate Francis does far more to establish these tensions than anything that had been seen previously. It's cut beautifully, written well and shot in such a manner that the closer the audience gets to the respective conversations, the more they feel the weight of these decisions.

The entire episode revolves around the ideas of decisions, choice and liberty and it's the ball at the heart of the story that gives rise to many of these themes. Any reader of eighteenth or nineteenth century based literature knows that you can't beat a good ball for getting the story going. Anna Karenina dances with Vronsky and sets tongues wagging, Madame Bovary does something very similar as does Irene Forsyte. Basically, if you're a woman even thinking about being a bit wayward, a ballroom is the place to do it. It also functions as a meat market for those women out to get a husband. For young, pretty things like Ruth Teague, practically throwing herself at Ross, it's a chance to avoid the fate of someone like Verity who, at 25, is already considered past it.

Poor Verity. Offered a chance to escape the dreariness of a life serving her family and being treated little better than a servant, it's not surprising she falls for the dashing Captain. She is by far the most sympathetic character in the series so far and one who stands as a stark reminder of the restrictions placed upon women by the ideas around freedom and choice. The relentless pursuit of Ross by Ruth Teague and her innuendo-spouting mother provides the levity before it all goes a bit mad. The climactic duel isn't even fought over her, but because Francis felt slightly put out by the unsurprising fact that a navy captain could punch harder than him. Now, Verity is once more left stranded with her family as honour dictates it's probably not a good idea to elope with the man who shot your brother. Francis really is a turnip.

I also have to single out the performance of Eleanor Tomlinson this week as Demelza is fast turning into the one character who I have to watch whenever she's on screen. Tomlinson does well with the dramatic and emotional stuff attached to the role, particularly in the final, touching scene where she declares her home to be in the Poldark household, but it's her physical performance that is astonishing. Her awkward, loping walk contrasts perfectly to the elegant, refined gliding of Elizabeth or Ruth Teague, conveying their differences beyond their respective dialogue. Her uncomfortable attempt at a proper curtsey provides one of the sweeter moments of the episode and the subtle changes to her posture and walk once she's wearing a proper corset and dress maybe barely noticeable, but enough to show that Demelza is moving up in the world.

Despite its unevenness, there is something compelling about Poldark. The balance between comedy and tragedy is neatly struck and now that the stage appears to be set, it will hopefully enable the rest of the show to even itself out. And look, I got through the whole review without mentioning that swimming scene. Go me.

- Becky

Read Becky's review of Poldark's first episode here.

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